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Beprlntei from Tlie Journal of the Ameriam Medical 
Aseooiation, December 23, JSOS. #w 






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Page 2, line 16, for complication read compilation. 

Page 6, line 23, for carious read various. 

Page 13, line 11, for cases read vases. 

Page 14, line 27, for Aegyptou read Aegypten. 

Page 16, line 22, for Torna read Torha. 

Page 16, line 26, for script read mishna. 


Dr. von Klein takes advantage of the opportunity afforded 
by the insertion of this errata slip to add the following com- 
ments : 

Dr. vonOefele's statement at the bottom of page 4 is derived 
from personal correspondence. 

Dr. von Klein's daughter, mentioned in the concluding para- 
graph, page 20, is the wife of Dr. jur. F. C. Zitelmann, now in 
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Berlin, Germany. 

The Anglo-Saxon nations, though renowned for deep 
thinkingj and philosophizing in eTery branch of science 
and art, can not boast of a scholarship in bringing forth 
the first literature of the science of medicine. A third 
of a century has elapsed since George Ebers revealed the 
pages on medicine which were written some seven 
thousand years ago, and which were concealed for nearly 
four thousand years between the legs of a mummy. With 
the assistance of the learned Ludwig Stern and other 
Egyptologists, Ebers published the fact that Hippo- 
crates of Cos, who for twenty-three hundred years has 
been known to the world as the "Father of Medicine," 

• Delivered before the Thirtieth Annual Session of the American 
Academy of Medicine at Chicago, 1905. 





This is an age of inquiry in researches and excavation, 
vdth a constant craving for some new development to 
assist us in our studies. 

The last hundred years is the Niobe of civilization, 
not only in inventions and productions, but in the re- 
markable revelations which have materially assisted us 
in the wonderful development in science. However, 
whatever we have done to advance the history of civil- 
ization was not done by an easy task. 

Wben we look through the magnificent works of dis- 
coverers and pioneers, the fruit of hardship, trial and 
labor, we can not fail to be infected with some of the 
enthusiasm which animated those who were endowed 
with superior intelligence and the gift of knowledge to 
bring forth hidden treasures from the inmost bosom of 
the earth, and to transmit them to future generations. 
Of one of these it may well be said : "Prom the Orient 
to the Occident," great be thy name (George Ebers). 

The Anglo-Saxon nations, though renowned for deep 
thinking, and philosophizing in every branch of science 
and art, can not boast of a scholarship in bringing forth 
the first literature of the science of medicine. A third 
of a century has elapsed since George Ebers revealed the 
pages on medicine which were written some seven 
thousand years ago, and which were concealed for nearly 
four thousand years between the legs of a mummy. With 
the assistance of the learned Ludwig Stem and other 
Egyptologists, Ebers published the fact that Hippo- 
crates of Cos, who for twenty-three hundred years has 
been known to the world as the "Father of Medicine," 

* Delivered before the Thirtieth Annual Session of the American 
Academy of Medicine at Chicago, 1905. 

and as an original observer, no longer possesses this dis- 
tinction. It has been wrested from the ancient Greek 
by the discovery of this papyrus of a date so remote' as 
almost to place Hippocrates within the ranks of modem 

However great the appreciation we may manifest, it 
is but strictest justice to do homage to the zeal, the re- 
markable ability and indefatigable activity of this Ger- 
man scholar, whose name is attached to that elaborate 
work, the "Papyrus Ebers." 

The revelation of this important document merits 
assuredly all praise. In the Ebers Papyrus we have 
a monument of ancient culture before us, whose med- 
ical and historical value is inestimable, as may be seen 
from the description of its contents. 

In this complication we have the most important med- 
ical treasure of the Egyptians before us, in a more com- 
plete form than any other known work. We learn 
much, too, of the anatomic, physiologic, pathologic and 
pathologico-anatomic conception of that time. Further- 
more, it gives us information concerning the methods of 
the examination of a patient and diagnosis of the Egyp- 
tian physicians, of methods of teaching and learning, as 
well as of the medical standing at that time. 


No better history can be attempted than the one given 
by the illustrious Ebers^ himself, which possesses all 
the characteristics of a romance. 

In the winter of 1872-73, George Ebers and his friend, 
Ludwig Stern, of, the University of Leipsic spent sev- 
era:l months at Thebes in quest of rare documents. Eor 
some time the two scientists made their dwelling place 
in one of the tombs of Abd-el-Gurnah, and associated 
daily with the Arabs of Luxor. A wealthy citizen of 
that place showed Ebers the antiquities which he, little 
by little, had obtained from a fellah, on the other side 
of the Nile. One day he exhibited one of those texts 
that are known under the name of "shai-en-sensen," and 
a wooden Osiris statuette in which a papyrus was well 
concealed. As an Arab did not trust himself to unfold 
the perishable manuscript, Ebers bore in mind the "shai- 
en-sensen," and let its high-priced possessor know that 
similar texts known had been found, and that he could 

1. Papyrus Ebers, vol. I, Leipzig, 1875. 

not consider its purchase without seeing the contents of 
this papyrus, but that if he had anything really valuable 
or rare to offer him, he would not hesitate to pay him 
well for it. The next day the Arab sent for Ebers and 
took from a tin case a well-preserved papyrus roll. Ac- 
cording to the statement of the Egyptian possessor, the 
papyrus was found in a tomb in the so-called II Assiut 
part of the necropolis of Thebes, between the legs of a 
mummy. Since the finder of the latter was dead, it was 
impossible to refer to the exact tomb that formerly con- 
tained the treasure. 

The costly manuscript was unfolded and on close in- 
spection Ebers made the startling discovery that it was 
a document of great value and in an unusual condition 
of preservation. Ebers says he can with difficulty de- 
scribe the impression that the precious, delightfully 
written and undamaged memorial made on him. The 
first lines on which his eyes fell belonged to a fragment 
of a calendar that he had known for a long time. This 
little document, so very important to the Egyptian 
chronology, was years ago shown to the renowned Egyp- 
tologists, Diimchen, Naville, Brugsch, Bisenlohr, and 
in 1870 to Ebers himself, in a copy belonging to a Mr. 
Smith, an American inhabitant of Luxor, who main- 
tained that he was the possessor of an extensive medical 
papyrus. Because of an affection of the eyes contracted 
while copying inscriptions, Ebers could not study the 
Smith copies ; hence Professor Eisenlohr of Heidelberg 
succeeded in obtaining a drawing (by means of tracing) 
of the fragment of calendar which was then regularly 
advertised in a periodical devoted to the Egyptian lan- 
guage and archseology, biit without success. 

Outside of the already-mentioned fragment of calen- 
dar, not a line of the papyrus was known. Mr. Smith 
claimed to have possessed a roll from which he had 
copied the fragment of the calendar, while, in reality, 
he possessed only a copy, which was the product of his 
own handwriting. 

Thus Ebers knew the true possessor of the precious 
memorial, and he resolved from the first to obtain it. 
The required price was high, but not higher than that 
paid for less handsome papyri. The same winter an 
Englishman of the British Museum was traveling 
through Egypt, and being aware of the treasure at 
Thebes, intended to purchase the same from Mr. Smith, 

whom he believed the true possessor. Ebers longed to 
possess the document himself, but had not the means to 
meet the demands of the owner, who was not altogether 
aware of its full value. However, receiving the finan- 
cial assistance, graciously advanced to him by Max 
Griinther, privy councilor of commerce at Leipsic, then 
visiting the Egyptian monuments, Ebers purchased the 
treasured papyrus. 

With the newly acquired treasure on board, they sailed 
for Cairo, where they had an opportunity tp glance 
over the contents of the fragile roll. His friend, Pro- 
fessor Stern, remained behind. Ebers traveled home- 
ward, and ended the work which he later showed and 
explained to His Majesty, the lamented King John of 
Saxony, a man of letters in the broadest sense of the 
term. It was finally turned over to the University of 
Leipsic for safe-keeping. 

In order better to preserve the valuable antiquity, 
and so that it may be shown to the many visitors, it has 
been cut into twenty-nine pieces of different sizes. Each 
piece lies under a glass, so as to avoid pasting. Those 
written on both sides are placed between two glasses. 


When Ebers came into possession of the papyrus, it 
consisted of a single, tightly rolled piece of the finest 
yellow-brown papyrus. The width of the document was 
30 centimeters, and the length of the written part 20.33 
meters. No other papyrus known to Egyptologists is bet- 
ter preserved. 

The text of this perfect ancient record is divided into 
columns, each of which is numbered. The column num- 
bers are placed over the first line in the middle of each 
column, which contains either twenty-one or twenty- 
two lines. With the exception of columns three to 
twenty-one, which are considerably smaller, the col- 
umns are 23 centimeters in width, and run from 1 to 98, 
and in the back from 99 to 110. Singularly, the num- 
bers 38 and 29 are missing, although the text continues 
uninterruptedly. The omission is explained on the 
ground that the Egyptians considered 110 to be a per- 
fect number, and by this means the writer was enabled 
to complete his book with the required number of pages. 

Dr. von Oefele believes the writer was a very fine cali- 
graphist, but evidently a very ordinary and careless 

subject, and therefore carelessly skipped from number 
27 to 30. 

There is no lack of figures in the text, and only a few 
that are repeated time and again, and they are written 
in red to denote the quantity of the medicament to be 
used, while the prescriptions are in black. Another par- 
ticular feature of the pagination is that up to column 
sixty the same hand paged the papyrus, while another 
scribe continued in the pagination in a different manner, 
although the text shows that it was wholly written by one 
person only. The second pagination may be the work 
of the physician who added his {?) signature after 
many a prescription, or the purist, who wisely added 
his signature in paler ink, when that of the physician 
was omitted. 

Script. — The script in which the Ebers Papyrus is 
written is extraordinarily regular, partly in black and 
partly in red ink. This form of writing is known as the 
hieratic, and is one of the three forms used by ancient 
Egyptians. The others are the hieroglyphic and the 
demotic. The hieratic is the cursive form of Egyptian 
writing, and is used chiefly on sacred and medical papyri 
and on wooden cofiBns. How early the hieratic came into 
use is unknown, but fragments of papyri in script with 
those characters have been traced to the I. dynasty. The 
characters are usually written from right to left. The 
invention of this script was attributed to Thoth (the 
Greek Hermes), and was in constant use up to about 
100 B. C. 

About 300 A. D. all knowledge of the meaning of the 
characters had died out, and it was not until the dis- 
covery in 1799 of the Eosetta Stone (by Boussard, a 
French artillery ofiBcer) that any real progress was made 
in their decipherment. 

Eubic or red occurs in almost every heading through- 
out the papyrus. Also in the statement of the disorder 
for which a medical prescription is to follow. Those 
headings, or rubrics, as they are called, show the use of 
red colors for such purposes in the most remote an- 
tiquity. Dr. Christen,^ in a chemical analysis of this 
red coloring, found it to contain red lead. 

Synonyms. — In the Ebers papyrus there exist a great 
many synonyms which are so much like the Semitic 
vernacular, both in expressions and pronunciations, that 

2. Ebers : "Die Maasse u. d. Kap. fl. Augenh., p. 71. 


one is almost led to believe that the ancient Egyptian 
belongs to the group of Semitic tongues. The lan- 
guage of the papyrus with all its richness of primitive 
forms possesses such organic arrangements that a single 
word can be easily recognized, for if a branch of the 
same is lacking, it may be readily supplied by one from 
another dialect. Sometimes an abstract conception or 
a mental function is combined with different things or 
actions, perceptible through the senses; ordinarily, 
therefore, things are easily explained; substances of 
either material or spiritual character are represented ac- 
cording to their characteristics. Each noun contains 
one of those characteristics; therefore, there exist as 
many nouns for the same thing as there are characterist- 
ics in it. One of the characteristics of the Egyptian, as 
well as of the Semitic tongues, is that they had different 
ways to arrive at the expression of the conception, which, 
however, were not identical in meaning. It is difficult, 
therefore, to differentiate the co-existing synonjrms. 
Philologists regard the various shades in order to ex- 
plain the origin of a conception from different sides. 

Age of the Papyrus. — The exact date of the writing 
of this papyrus has not yet been established. Carious 
opinions exist. The calendar which is on the outside of 
the papyrus refers to the eighteenth dynasty, in the 
sixteenth century B. C, and bears the following inscrip- 
tion : "In the ninth year of His Majesty the King of Up- 
per and Lower Egypt, Amonophis I, the Everlasting." 
Before the last epithet is the framed name of the king. 

The Date of Transcription. — According to Lenor- 
mant,^ a royal library was established at Thebes 1670 
B. C. (near the place where the Ebers Papyrus was 
found), under the direction of Amen-em-an, who took 
great pride in transcribing fragile papyri, which was 
at that time falling into decay. Therefore, it is pos- 
sible that the Ebers Papyrus was either compiled, re- 
vised or rewritten in 1552 B. C, or 118 years after the 
establishment of the library. There is still another im- 
portant supposition concerning the Ebers Papyrus. Ac- 
cording to the discoverer's opinion, it is identical with 
the hermetic books iiepi ^apim'Kuv which are quoted by 
Clemens Alexandrinus.* 

The latter is said to be the greatest of all works de- 

3. Manuel d'Hlstoire Anclenne, vol. 1, p. 425. 

4. Strom, vol. vl, p. 785, Section 634, ed. Potter. 

posited in the tomb of Osymandias at Thebes, which, 
according to Diodorus Siculus, contained 20,000 vol- 
umes. Among these were the forty-two hermetic books 
described by Clemens Alexandrinus, six of which were 
medical works, on the structure of the body, on dis- 
eases, on instruments, on medicine, on the eyes, and on 

Hermetic, which means compiled, or inspired by 
Thoth, was any work which was written by a priest ac- 
cording to the inspiration of the god, which would cor- 
respond excellently to the Ebers Papyrus. However, 
Luring^ believes that the Ebers Papyrus is much older 
than the book, and argues that there are certain remark- 
able differential points between them. Whatever may be 
the truth, the value of the Ebers Papyrus is the same, be 
it the hermetic work or a compilation from writings of 
prominent physicians of the earliest ages. 

That the writer of the Ebers Papyrus wrote in 1552 
B.C. can be proved in three ways, as Bbers° shows, 
namely, first, by the peculiar shape of the letters in 
which the manuscript is written; second, by the names 
of kings occurring in the papyrus; and third, by the 
calendar which we find at the back of the first column 
of the roll. 

The name of the king in whose reign the Ebers Papy- 
rus was transcribed, compiled or written was Amenophis 
I of the eighteenth dynasty. 

von Oefele' calls attention to the fact that the lan- 
guage from columns 103 to 110, which are written on 
the back of the papyrus, is different from that of the 
rest of the roll, although the handwriting is the same 
and shows that there existed different dialects in the 
land of the Pharaohs, the same as exist to-day in many 
countries. Dr. von Oefele further states that while the 
style of writing in the Ebers Papyrus does not go back 
beyond 1600 B. C, yet the text, in other words, the 
idioms of the language, belong to a much oldeir period, 
and that the oldest portions of the Ebers Papyrus very 
likely reach back into the time of the first Egyptian 

Lepsius' and Meyer° believe that it was not only writ- 

5. Die 11. a. med. Kennt., etc., p. 13. 

6. Pap. Eb., Leipzig, 1875. 

7. Prag. Med. Woch., 1905, No. 11, p. 143. 

8. iEgypt., Zelt., 1875, p. 145. 

9. Gesch. d. Alt. I, section 402. 

ten, but also compiled under the goye^Binent of an un- 
known Hyksos king. It is thus generally ^~Cepted that 
the Ebers Papyrus is a copy. Moreover, the ^tiy cor- 
rections made by strange hands and the many criticalj 
marginal notes found throughout the papyrus show thai 
the document was worked on. 


A large proportion of the diseases known to modern 
medical science are carefully classified and their symp- 
toms minutely described. 

Mention is found of the following diseases, with their 
treatment : 

Diseases of the Abdomen. — Abdominal tumors and swellings, 
obstructions of the abdomen, swellings in the inguinal region, 
affections of the stomach, esophagus, pylorus and small intes- 
tine, obstruction of these organs, inflammations, diseases of the 
liver, affections of the intestines, intestinal worms, belching, 
cramps, jaundice, and chlorosis — ^^gyptiaca. 

Diseases of the Bladder and Urinary Organs. — Obstruction 
of the urinary passages, cystitis, retention of urine, polyuria, 
hematuria, diabetes mellitus, blood in the urine, hypertrophy 
of the prostate, stricture, dysuria, and strangury in children. 

Diseases of the Rectum and Anus. — Tumors, inflammatory 
abscesses, prolapsus, affections of the vessels, inflammations, 
obstructions, diarrhea, dysentery, constipation, and pain. 

Diseases of the Chest and Respiratory Organs. — ^Diseases of 
the bronchi, affections of the lungs, asthma, phthisis, general 
diseases of the chest, and sequels to diseases of the stomach. 

Diseases of the Heart. — Fatty degeneration, dilatation, car- 
ditis, angina pectoris, hypertrophy, thrombosis, and anasarca. 

Diseases of the Eyes. — Conjunctivitis, iritis, blear eyes, hy- 
peremia, granulations, albugo leucoma, vascular cicatrix of the 
cornea, corneal opacity, staphyloma of the cornea, inflamma- 
tion, myiodeopsia, hypopyon, stenosis, contractions, strabis- 
mus, xanthelasma, fatty degeneration, abscesses, ehemosis, sup- 
puration, amaurosis, amblyopia, cataract, paralysis, blephari- 
tis, injury, calciflcation of the Meibomian glands, distichiasis, 
and trichiasis. 

Diseases of the Ears. — Impaired hearing, inflammation, vis- 
cous humor, suppuration, fetid pus, and foreign bodies. 

Diseases of the Nose. — Tumors, coryza, influenza, and mucus. 

Diseases of the Head and Neck. — Tumors, migrain, neural- 
gia, shooting pains, and vertigo. 

Diseases of, the Scalp. — Tumors, alopecia, superfluous hair, 
and eruptions. There are also prescriptions to prevent hair 
from turning gray, to produce its growth on bald heads, to 
promote the growth, to make it grow on cicatrices, to depilate 
the scalp, to prevent white hairs from coming in the eyebrows, 
and to dye the hair. 


Facial Diseases. — Sunburn, freckles, wrinkles, discoloration, 
roughness, and blotches. 

Diseases of the Tongue and of the Teeth. — The ailnibnta of 
the tongue are not specified, but for the teeth there are pre- 
scriptions to strengthen them, to make them grow, to heal 
ulcers of the gums, swelling of the gums, and bloody conges- 
tions of the teeth. 

Diseases of the Skin. — Pains, pustules, prurigo, swellings, 
tumors with fetid suppuration, lesions, fistulas, leprosy, ec- 
zema, scabies, rashes, itching, burning, cankers, boils, carbun- 
cles, and furuncles. 

Diseases of the Blood, Arteries, Veins a/nd Nerves. — Distoma 
hematobium, extravasations, congestion, coagulation, numbness 
of the vessels, loss of suppleness, and weakness of the nerves. 

Sores and Wounds. — Blows that have cut the flesh, blood in 
the opening of the wound, gangrene, eschar formation, pus, 
contusions, cuts, pricks, bites of man or beast, thorns, splinters, 
etc., and their treatment. 

Burns. — Sores which result from burns, poisonous burns, 
spots or white cicatrices which such sores leave, and alteration 
of the hair on the burnt surfaces. 

Diseases of the Limbs. — Trembling, pain, swellings, stifi'ness, 
bent limbs,' itching, tumors, lesions, Fila/ria medinensis, tired 
limbs, perspiration of the feet, sore toes, corns, bunions, callosi- 
ties of all sorts, and falling nails. 

Diseases of the Female Genitals. — Tumors and abscesses in 
the vagina, inflammation of the vagina, twinges in the vagina, 
chafing due to inflammation in the vagina, ulceration of the 
womb, pain in the labia, abscesses of the labia, menstrual dis- 
turbances, fluor albus, affections of the mammary glands, etc., 
and their treatment. 

Maternity. — ^Methods to induce abortion, to prevent abor- 
tion, to replace a prolapsed uterus, to deliver a woman, to per- 
form version during delivery, to deliver the placenta, to restore 
the vagina to its normal condition, to prevent retention of 
urine, and to stop hemorrhage. 

Hygiene. — ^Deo'dorizations, fumigations of dwellings, per- 
fumes for women to render odor of the house, clothing and 
breath agreeable, to destroy insects, reptiles, plant lice, to pre- 
vent wasps and mosquitoes from stinging, to prevent mice and 
rats from gnawing things, to prevent birds from eating crops, 
to prevent rodents from devouring corn in the granary, and to 
destroy lizards and scorpions. 

Not only diseases producing suffering to mankind 
claimed the physician's care in those days, but he had 
also to consider the toilet. Seventy-four prescriptions 
pertain alone to hair washes, dyes, oils and depilatories. 
After duly reflecting on important anamnestic facts, 
on the subjective disturbances or disorders, and the ob- 
jective or demonstrable changes, the physician prescribed 


the treatment, and a remedy which was either aimed at 
the principal subjective disturbance of the patient, or at 
the most striking objeetiye manifested symptom, and 
often symptoms of the disease were regarded as the dis- 
ease itself. It is not improbable that in difi&cult cases 
consultations were held. 

In this papyrus are mentioned over 700 different sub- 
stances from the animal, vegetable and mineral king- 
doms which act as stimulants, sedatives, motor excitants, 
motor depressants, narcotics, hypnotics, analgesics, ano- 
dynes, antispasmodics, mydriatics, myotics, expector- 
ants, tonics, dentifrices, sialogogues, antisialics, refrig- 
erants, emetics, anti-emetics, carminatives, cathartics, 
purgatives, astringents, cholagogues, anthelmintics, 
restoratives, hematics, alteratives, antipyretics, anti- 
phlogistics, antiperiodics, diuretics, diluents, diaphoret- 
ics, sudorifics, anhidroties, emmenagogues, oxytocics, ec- 
bolics, galactagogues, irritants, escharotics, caustics, 
styptics, hemostatics, emollients, demulcents, protectives, 
antizymotics, disinfectants, deodorants, parasiticides, an- 
tidotes and antagonists. 

Medicines are directed to be administered internally 
in the form of decoctions, infusions, injections, pills, tab- 
lets, troches, capsules, powders, potions and inhalations; 
and externally, as lotions, ointments, plasters, etc. They 
are to be eaten, drunk, masticated or swallowed, to be 
taken often, once only — often for many days — and the 
time is occasionally designated — to be taken mornings, 
evenings or at bedtime. Formulas to disguise bad-tast- 
ing medicaments are also given. 

The Ebers Papyrus contains numerous other subjects 
pertaining to the practice of medicine, which the reader 
will find in the text. 


In 1874, two years after the discovery of the papyrus, 
at the Orientalists' Congress, held in London, a method 
of transcribing hieratic texts into hieroglyphics was de- 
vised. Ebers, in working on the papyrus, has followed 
this method in general, still he transcribed a few signs, 
especially those which seem to indicate vowels, inde- 
pendently of the London method. The latter, accepted 
in the main by all orientalists, has been modified in its 
details by all Egyptologists, so that in every work on this 


papyrus we meet with various interpretations of the 
■written characters. 

In 1875 Professor Ebers, with the financial support 
■of the Eoyal Saxonian Ministry of Education, had re- 
produced fac simile photo-lithographic plates in size, di- 
mension and color, in two magnificent volumes, in large 
Toyal folio, illustrated after the hieratic text. 

Volume I contains an introduction written by Ebers 
himself, a general .index of the titles of all the subjects, 
with explanatory notes and plates I-LXIX. Volume II 
■contains an hieroglyphic and Latin glossary of all Egyp- 
tian words alphabetically arranged, with reference to the 
columns and lines where they are found, and plates 
LXX-CX. Much credit is due both George Ebers and 
his traveling companion and assistant, Ludwig Stern, 
librarian of the vice-royal collection of manuscripts in 
Egypt, for the reproduction and the translation from a 
language of which so little is known. The study of 
Egyptian literature, as a whole, is hardly more than 
three-quarters of a century old, and too much praise can 
not be given Prof. Ludwig Stern for his labor and the 
pains taken in the compilation of the special glossary 
annexed to this beautiful work, which will ever remain 
an honored testimonial and a monument to both im- 
mortal names. 


There are now in existence seven papyri on the sub- 
ject of medicine, those at Berlin (large and small), Lon- 
don, Leyden, Turin, Bulak and Leipsic, the last being 
the Ebers Papyrus, which, because of its rich contents, 
the distinctness of its script and its completeness is fore- 
most in importance. 

In order to fill the vacuum between Ebers Papyrus 
and the writings of Hippocrates, we must not overlook 
the inscription on one of the "Mastabas," or tombs of 
Egyptian grandees, which surround the pyramids of 
Sakkarch, that of Sekhet-enankh, chief physician of the 
Pharaoh Sahura of the fifth dynasty, 3533 B. C. It de- 
scribes how he healed the king's nostrils, for which his 
majesty wishes him "a long life in holiness"; and the 
compilation of medical works assigned by tradition to 
one of the most ancient kings, Teta, the successor of 
Menes of the first dynasty. Manetho,^" the Egyptian 

10. Ap. eund, p. 54 c. 


priest and historian, tells us that this king wrote treatises 
on anatomy and surgery and performed surgical opera- 
tions with flint flakes. About 3300 B. C, during the 
reign of Cheops, the builder of the great pyramid, a 
medical papyrus containing anatomy was found by a 
priest in a temple. We also know that the Egyptians 
practiced embalming for over 5000 years B. C, and their 

*''g. 1. — A domestic medicine cliest of an Egyptian queen. 

process surely- necessitated a knojvledge of anatomy. 
There can be no doubt, therefore, that this ancient peo- 
ple knew the structure of the body, and without that 
knowledge they could not have understood even the 
symptoms of the different maladies enumerated in the 
Ebers papyrus. 

Pliny (XIX, 5) tells us that the Egyptians examined 
the bodies after death, to ascertain the nature of the 


diseases of which they died. There may have been a 
prejudice against it, perhaps, just the same as there is 
to-day, but the Egyptians did not shrink from human 
dissection, consequently the study of anatomy was a 
matter of course. However, they may not have attained 
the degree that we might expect in comparison with their 
other medical knowledge. 

Fig. 2. 

-Stone case In which medicine chest was found In queen's 

Another relic of Egyptian medicine is the domestic 
medicine chest (Pig. 1) of the wife of the Pharaoh 
Mentu'hotep of the eleventh dynasty, 2500 B. C. It con- 
tains six cases, one of alabaster and five of serpentine, 
with dried remnants of drugs, two spoons, a piece of 


linen cloth and some roots, enclosed in a basket of straw- 
work. It was found in the queen's tonib (Pig. 2). 

Beginning with the earliest chronology on, the exist- 
ence of Moses, or his five books in the Bible, and con- 
sidering the doubtful authority and. the most accepted 
authority, namely, Josephus, who believed that Moses 
wrote Exodus about 1985 B. C, and Bunsen, who stated 
that Moses^died 1533 B. C, we observe a difference of 
462 years in the dates assigned to the life of Moses, 
hence between the two authorities we naturally come to 
the conclusion that the five books of Moses must have 
been written between 1985 B. C, and 1523 B. C. Hence, 
as between the oldest and the latest parts of the Ebers 
Papyrus lies a vast space of time, over 3,000 years, the 
whole dating from various epochs between 4688 B. C. 
and 1552 B. C, it appears reasonable to conclude that 
Moses knew Egyptian medicine. Medical literature 
was considered sacred, and therefore was carefully 
guarded from the profane eyes of the laity, and was only- 
open to members of the priest class and their matricu- 


Moses, in whatever period he existed, was known to 
have resided at the court of Pharaoh, and to have re- 
ceived his collegiate education among the wise men of 
Egypt, and in the same school in which the Ebers Papy- 
rus was written. The immortal Ebers, in his "Aegypton 
und die Biieher Moses," Berlin, 1868, has already shown 
the existing similarity of the Bible and Egyptian writ- 

Biblical botany no doubt originated with the Egyp- 
tians and found its way into the Mosaic writings. The 
same source led to the knowledge of the plant world and 
the most remarkable phenomena of plant life. 

We find the Bible not poor in the designation of dif- 
ferent plants and their various parts. In the very be- 
ginning (Gen. i, 11) we read: "And God said: Let the 
earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the 
fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind," etc. 

Biblical Medicine. — ^Moses, who evidently borrowed • 
from the writings and teachings of the Egyptians, gives 
us in his "five books" information of their anatomic 
knowledge. In the narrative of the twin birth of Esau 
and Jacob it is related that the latter grasped the for- 
mer's heel (Genesis xxv, 36) ; and in the description of 


Jacob wrestling with the angel it is remarked that the 
angel touched Jacob's hollow of the thigh, and put it 
out of joint (Genesis xxxii, 35) ; and in the same chap- 
ter, verse 32, the "sinew that shrank" is spoken of. 

In Exodus (xxviii, xxix) the heart, brow, shoulder, 
breast, lobe of the ear, hand, finger and thumb are men- 
tioned. In Exodus (xxix, 17) dissection is mentioned, 
"and thou shalt cut the ram' into sections" ; some of the 
visceral portions are also mentioned, such as inwards, 
caul, liver, fat kidneys; skin also occurs. In Deuteron- 
omy (xxxii, 10) the apple of the eye is mentioned, the 
lids (Ps. xi, 4), and eyes (Exodus xxi, 34) ; bones (Gen. 
ii, 23), and sinews (Gen. xxx, 32) ; teeth (Gen. xlix, 
12) ; palate, temple (Cant, ii, 3; vi, 7). In Job (xvi, 
13) w6 read of pouring out his "gall" on the ground. 

The Bible tells us of physicians (Gen. 1, 3) : "And 
Joseph commanded his servants, the physicians, to em- 
balm his father." Isaiah (iii, 7) mentions particularly 
a healer : "I will not be a healer." We also find that the 
Jewish prophets, as well as the Egyptian prophets, prac- 
ticed the art of healing. This may be seen from the 
narration of a man of God who restored the paralyzed 
hand of King Jeroboam (I Kings, xiii, 4-6). Elijah 
brought to life a child, apparently dead (I Kings xvii, 
17-23) I and his disciple, Elisha (II Kings iv, 18-20, 
34-35) performed similar miraculous cures. Isaiah 
(II Kings XX, 7) cured King Hezekiah of an inilamma- 
tion by applying a plaster made of figs. 

The Bible likewise mentions surgeons and surgery of 
wounds and injuries in different parts of the body, 
caused by various weapons — sword, arrow, hammer, etc. 
(II Sam. ii, 23; iii, 37; iv, 6; xviii, 14; xx, 10; Num. 
XXV, 8; Judges iii, 21; v, 24; I Kings, xxii, 34; II 
Chron. xxxv, 33; and many other places). Inflamma- 
tion and abscesses (Deut. xxviii, 35, 37) are also men- 
tioned. Wounds were treated by the application of wine 
or oil, bandages or sutures (Isa. i, 6 ; Jer. viii, 33 ; xlvi, 
ii; Ii, 8; Deut. xxviii, 37). Gangrene and putrid dis- 
charges (Ps. xxxviii, 6; Prov. xii, 4; xiv, 30; II Mace, 
ix, 9) are spoken of. 

It is also evident that Moses acquired a knowledge 
of chemistry from the Egyptians. As Boerhaave aptly 
remarks, the fact that Moses knew how to reduce gold 
to powder so as to render it miscible with water, and by 
this means potable, shows he had acquired a knowledge 


of chemistry only to be attained by the highest masters 
of science and art. 

The fact that apothecaries (Rahha) are mentioned in 
the books of Moses (Exodus xxx, 25-35, "after the art of 
the apothecary"; Exodus xxxvii, 29, "according to the 
work of an apothecary" ; Ecclesiastes x, 1, "the ointment 
of the apothecary;" II Chronicles xvi, 14, "prepared by 
the apothecaries' art"), and the compounded prescrip- 
tions in the Ebers Papyrus, furnish us evidence that a 
distinct class of apothecaries existed among the ancient 
Egyptians, who were cultivated pharmacists. 

Certainly more competency was required of the an- 
cient pharmacists than of those of our day, for the for- 
mer had to make their own pills, extracts, infusions, 
etc., as we can find no proof that there existed manu- 
facturing chemists. Their prescriptions were composed 
of many ingredients and many remedies. Of the 108 
columns in the Ebers Papyrus, seven were devoted to 
tsenia alone. 

There can hardly be a doubt that the Ebers Papyrus 
existed prior to the exodus of the Israelites, and that 
the Biblical medicine embodied in the so-called Torna 
shebacsab (written law) had its origin in the valley of 
the Nile. 

Post-Biilical Medicine. — Beginning with the post- 
Biblical history of medicine, we have the script, which 
was discovered 623 B. C, but which may have been 
handed down by oral tradition for many centuries be- 
fore, and which is called Torha shebalpse, or oral law. 
In this work is found a book on medicine (saphar 
raphout), containing classifications of plants, trees, etc., 
and their habitations. 

We also know that another Egyptian monarch, Nak- 
hepsus of Sais, in the seventh century B. C, wrote on 
medicine. It is said that he was the first to obsprve the 
wonderful virtues of green jasper, which when engraved 
with a dragon with rays, and hung around the neck, 
was considered a cure for digestive disturbances. 

The employment of numerous drugs in Egypt has 
been mentioned by both sacred and profane writers ; and 
the medicinal properties of many herbs which grow in 
the deserts, particularly between the Nile and the Eed 
Sea, are -still known to Arabs, though their application 
has been but imperfectly recorded and preserved. 


Homer^^ speaks of the great number of medicinal 
plants and herbs produced in Egypt, some of which grew 
naturally, while others were cultivated. 

The fame of the Egyptian physicians was spread 
throughout the ancient world. Homer described them 
as the "sons of Paeon, skillful above all men." In the 
third book of Herodotus is the following passage: 
"Cyrus sent to Amasis (500 B. C.) and bade him for an 
oculist — ^the best in the whole land of Egypl" Darius 
also sent hither for a body physician, and in the time 
of Tiberius and Nero, Egyptian physicians regularly 
came to Eome, usually to heal skin diseases. The sci- 
ence of medicine among this ancient people was in the 
hands of specialists, who were called 8nu. Homer, and 
later Herodotus (ii, 37) tell us that there was a special- 
ist for each single disease, and what records we now 
possess of the Egyptians after thousands of years of con- 
tinued destruction corroborate the statement of the lat- 
ter when he says that Egypt swarmed with physicians. 
They concealed their medical knowledge under the most 
mysterious formulas, and therefore used a writing or 
language not understood by the laity. The Latin pre- 
scriptions of our modern physicians appear to be an 
echo of the secret doings of our ancient colleagues. 

The subdivision of the medical profession which pre- 
vailed among the Egyptians must have had a tendency, 
in some respects, to advance medical knowledge by spe- 
cializing it. If we review the contents of the Papyrus, 
we can not but admit that the Egyptian physicians were 
well advanced in ophthalmology. The collection of Hip- 
pocrates, edited 4,000 years later, did not contain more 
eye diseases, but they were more clearly and more agree- 
ably described. The number of diseases mentiond in the 
Ebers Papyrus, as well as the profusion of medicines 
prescribed, is a source of wonder to modern physicians. 
The ancient Egyptians must have been experienced di- 
agnosticians. All physicians, however, were required by 
law to employ the prescribed remedies, and in no case 
to resort to others unless, as Aristotle (iii, 10) states, 
the regularly authorized prescriptions proved unavailing. 
Any transgression of this rule of practice, if followed by 
the death of the patient, was a capital offeri.«e. This 
may have been but a nominal law, or one, as Pinlayson 

11. Odyss., vol. It, pp. 228-230. 


says/^ "held in reserve to check abuses, for the compli- 
cated formulas and large choice of alternate remedies 
indicated in the Ebers Papyrus would seem to show that 
no, great weight was attached to strict adherence to spe- 
cial methods, deviation from which was fatal." 

Up to a recent period our knowledge of Egyptian 
medicine was gathered solely from scattered passages 
from great writers. Praxagoras (though from Cos, the 
town where Hippocrates was bom, and where the temple 
of Esculapius was built, lived in Egypt) , of whom Galen 
speaks as the greatest symptomologist and diagnostician, 
and quotes his treatment for acute diseases, and espe- 
cially gymnastics, was the teacher of Herophilus (400 
B. C), the first anatomist who made postmortems on 
cadavers. The former went to Egypt for his medical 
learning, and established a school for Greek physicians ; 
.the latter went for the same purpose and founded a sys- 
tem of pathology. 

We have a continuous history of Egypt to the extent 
of about 5,000 years B. C, and a prehistoric account of 
2,000 and a continuous culture known to us to cover 
about 2,000 years more, hence our continuous knowledge 
probably extends back to about 9000 B. C. 

The Ebers Papyrus, therefore, opens a new era for the 
history of medicine and pharmacology. The work dis^ 
closes an astonishing knowledge of a great variety of 
remedies, and shows that four or five thousand years be- 
fore Christ there were learned men in Egypt who could 
make intelligent observations of disease, combine com- 
plicated prescriptions and use them with judgment. It 
is hardly possible to exaggerate the literary, scientific 
and historical importance of this wonderful papyrus, the 
most complete compendium of Egyptian medical science 
that is left to us, and we must acknowledge the fact 
that the copy of the Ebers Papyrus is the genesis of med- 


My sole purpose in translating the "Papyrus Ebers" 
into the English language is identical with that of the 
illustrious Ebers himself, namely, to bring out the origin 
and to cultivate the prehistoric knowledge of medicine, 
and to show that there existed in ancient Egypt nearly 
7,000 years ago a civilization in which medical knowl- 

12. British Med. Jour., April 8, 1893. 


edge was in a high state of cultivation and in which the 
foundation of our present system of medicine was estab- 
lished. A careful study of this papyrus will convince 
the student that the medicine of to-day is essentially the 
medicine of the ancient Egyptians. Certainly it was in 
a crude state and on the same footing as our wearing ap- 
parel, both in custom and in fashion. Man has always 
covered his nakedness from the day that Adam ate of 
the apple. Garments have developed from the leaf cov- 
ering to our present style of dress. In our latest advance- 
ment of civilization we have doffed the turban and 
donned the hat; we have cast aside the chiton and have 
clad ourselves in the frock; we have dispensed with the 
kilt and adopted trousers ; we have thrust aside the san- 
dal and have replaced it with the shoe. A similar evolu- 
tion has taken place in medicine. New garbs adorn 
anatomy, physiology, pathology, botany, chemistry 
and materia medica in general, but the fundamental 
principles of curing disease still remain the same. Even 
the various methods in the practice of medicine have 
not changed. From all historical accounts and from 
the contents and language of this papyrus, we have evi- 
dence that the ancient Egyptians had three different 
classes of. physicians — ^the regulars, the priest physicians 
and the conjurers, just the same as we have to-day. Our 
advancement consists merely in a greater varie^. We 
have, regulars, irregulars, faith healers and many others, 
too numerous to mention. 

In my translation I have added commentary notes, 
the aim of which is to establish the fact that medicine 
up to, and from, the time of Hippocrates until the pres- 
ent day has been built on the foundation of that of the 
ancient Egyptians. 

It was with great hesitancy that I entered on this 
very difficult task, by reason of a real distrust of my 
own ability. My knowledge of Egyptology is but su- 
perficial, and yet I have been greatly encouraged by 
medical men in various parts of the world, to whom I 
had communicated iny intention. On their advice, 
therefore, I venture to offer this work, not only to fill a 
hiatus in our medical history, but to bring forth for the 
first time in the English language the ancient treasure 
of medical knowledge, namely, "Papyi'us Bbers," trans- 
lated from the original, utilizing the labors of Ebers, 
Stern, Brugsch, Chasbas, Diimchen, Ermann, Luring, 


Lieblein, Joachim, von Oefele, Hirschberg, Scheuthauer, 
Sehafer, Proksch, Lange, Piehl and many other re- 
nowned Egyptologists. 

The assistance of the above-named scientists, whose 
labors cover a period of over thirty years, and their crit- 
icisms of one another have enabled me to produce prob- 
ably the best translation in a modern tongue. I have 
borrowed from these eminent minds not as a plagiarist, 
but as a kleptomaniac, who steals for the benefit of 
others. In no place have I failed to acknowledge the 
theft by a footnote; therefore, I can only appeal for 
mercy to those who are always ready to engineer some 
method of criticism, be it just or unjust. I have spared 
no pains to render the translation as accurate as possible. 
In a work involving such an infinity of details and in- 
terpretations, doubtful to even more scholarly Egyptol- 
ogists, it would be unreasonable to expect. that no er- 
rors or misinterpretations would occur. 

While the outline of my work is as crude as that of a 
pioneer, I trust it will serve the labors of others who 
are more accomplished. 

I now come to that which is to me the most painful 
part of my duty; that is, to inform you that the im- 
mortal Ebers had worked on a translation for a period 
of twenty-five years. His death, however, unhappily cut 
short his labors. On opening his last will and testa- 
ment it was found that in ease of death the manuscript 
Was to be burned; accordingly, his will was carried 

In conclusion, gentlemen, allow me to acknowledge 
my sincere gratitude to Baron von Oefele, the greatest 
living medical Egyptologist and ancient medical his- 
torian, for his consent to review and to correct my trans- 
lation of the "Papyrus Ebers" before its publication. 
I also wish to express my thanks to my daughter, Edith, 
who for seven long years has labored by my side, in- 
spired not merely by the devotion of filial love, but also 
by the same interest and purpose as that of her father, 
namely, to cultivate medical history and to elevate the 
standing of the humane and noble profession of med- 

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